Sep 07 2012
Sep 07

I started writing this post at the DrupalCon and then continued work on it on the train back home after a long week, last Sunday after the code sprints—even now, more than a week later (after being ill for a week—I think I was burning the candle at both ends for a bit too long), it’s hard to believe that it’s finally over. I arrived the weekend before to participate in the pre-con code sprints and stayed for the Friday–Sunday after the conference to continue that effort. I’ll write about the sprints in another post. This one will cover the highlights of the actual DrupalCon, what I think worked well, and recommendations for those attending their first DrupalCon; with two new continents getting a ’con this year, I think there will be more than a few at their first.

The food at DrupalCon Munich was great

For me, one of the major highlights of this conference was the outstanding food quality. It was so good I was distracted enough I never pulled out my camera to take photos of i, but it was attractive, gourmet, and delicious and there was something for everyone, even a fantastic salad buffet as well as more desserts than anyone could try… and hot dishes with plenty of options for both vegetarians and omnivores, alike. In the closing plenary, it was revealed that the catering costs for the event were about €352,000 for the 1800+ of us in attendance; not surprising for the quality and abundant variety of fare they served us. Food service tables were put in place in all areas of the conference so that there was no crowding into one area and the same dishes were provided at both the Sheraton and the Westin Grand, which were a few minutes’ walk away from each other. The conference occupied the three conference center floors of the Westin Grand and a few smaller rooms in the Sheraton, which were primarily “core conversations”. One might think I would gorge myself, but most days I had simple salad items, walnuts, and seeds… and gave myself a break before finishing with some fresh fruit and a light mousse from the dessert buffet. Despite the fact that the days were hot and many of the rooms weren’t well conditioned, people were alert and in good spirits and I think the food had more than a bit to do with that.

To continue a moment in the vein of “food”, since I really do think it was notable at this DrupalCon, I hope this reflects some new recognition of the importance of good sustenance when organizing a successful event like this. And I hope that future Drupal events will also place emphasis on food quality. That said, I also think that the community would pull together if we had commercial kitchen space and quality ingredients—we could prepare similar gourmet meals without quite the budget we used for catering at this conference; on the other hand, such a model might work better at one of the large DrupalCamps (a few hundred attendees) than at a huge (North American or European) DrupalCon. Of course preparing our own food would provide another place for people to connect (food preparation and more volunteer service), which I think would offset the downsides (not being able to be someplace else whenever you have “kitchen duty”).

The Venue

munich_olympic-park.jpg

Munich is a beautiful city I’d never really visited before the DrupalCon. Public transportation was not too expensive, but I got to see a bit more of Munich by walking almost everywhere, so my walks back from the pre-conference sprints and out to dinner (beer) in the evening were mostly through parks where I got to see the huge Olympics installation and unusual sights like Munich’s famous river surfing.

Surfers have a man-made wave on the Eichbach

Sessions and participation

Choosing sessions

This was my second time attending a DrupalCon and I decided I wanted to primarily attend the “core conversations” track (with a few exceptions). For those who don’t know, the “core conversations” sessions are where plans for the future of Drupal are presented, discussed, and refined. It’s truly an amazing experience to sit in a room with dozens of top-notch developers as they hash out the architecture for new Drupal features or present the innovations they have already completed. Of course participating in the Drupal 8 (Multilingual initiative) sprints in Barcelona (a couple months ago) and before and after the DrupalCon session days probably also spurred my interest in the areas being covered by other initiatives, but it is definitely an interesting track if you are not sure what to attend. In the past, core conversations were often not fully recorded, another reason I chose to attend this track, but it looks like you can view most core conversations pretty well now, online. If you missed them and are interested in the future of Drupal (i.e. Drupal 8), there are many that you might want to watch.

Volunteering

Another first for me was helping the DrupalCon staff as a volunteer, mostly monitoring the rooms I was in and taking a head-count in mid-session. Other activities of a room monitor included being a bit early and making sure the speakers had everything they needed; I got to loan out a display adapter for one session and was prepared with multiple power adapters if anyone happened to be missing a way to plug in—we also tried to make sure that questions were recorded in session audio (either by having those with questions come to a microphone or the speaker repeating the question). I found volunteering rewarding and I thank Adam Hill, the DrupalCon Munich volunteer coordinator, for being a great guy to work with.

DrupalCon Munich Volunteers

Drupal 8 will be great!

Angie Byron’s current overview of Drupal 8 (aka “”) had not changed a lot since I last saw her similar presentation at the “Developer Days” in Barcelona a couple of months earlier, but it filled the largest session room, so there may have been close to 1,000 in attendance. Some features are more polished, some of the features are not yet written, but are better conceptualized than they were a couple of months ago, but the general ideas are mostly the same so in a presentation providing an overview of Drupal 8, while much has changed, it wasn’t much that affected the presentation. I’ve take the liberty to add a few specifics which were actually covered in separate sessions (sessions which covered each core initiative, for example), just for the sake of brevity and consolidation of information.

Webchick presents an overview of Drupal 8 features and initiatives

One key point that was made by all Drupal 8 core initiative leads is that we are only 3 months away from “Feature freeze” for Drupal 8 (December 1st, 2012), so it’s time to pitch in and try to help get all the great planned features into Drupal 8. All of the major initiatives need help and have areas where they are behind schedule as far as being ready for the freeze deadline with all the features the community would like to have in core.

Key Drupal 8 initiatives and components

- This finally ends the problem of having an evolving set of configuration on the development/staging sites which needs to be moved to production… but can’t be since the configuration (in Drupal 6 and 7) tends to be all over the place. Having a set of YAML documents stored in your sites “files” directory is a good way to manage and deploy common patterns to multiple sites, update configuration on production sites, etc. And it gets around the issue that pushing a database update from a development/staging server to production might overwrite actual content. So we now have a working configuration management system based on YAML files and a developers’ API, but no user interface for adjusting configurations; the UI still needs to be written. We also need ways to determine if configuration has been changed on the production server, have a range of multilingual configuration issues to still resolve, and performance issues, among other outstanding tasks. Join the #drupal-cmi IRC channel during the CMI meeting times and work on the issue queue if you want to help get the CMI full-featured for Drupal 8. Most active work is in the CMI sandbox repository.

deals with helping sort out inconsistencies and inflexibility in the core blocks functionality. It’s been described as, “Like panels in core, only better”… well at least that’s the goal. Everything on a page has context and is a block or layout/nested layout. Since blocks are rendered independently, caching is well-supported. A responsive layout designer from Spark can allow you to figure out your layouts for different screen sizes without a ton of divs complicating their HTML. If you would like to help with improving Drupal 8 layouts, there are office hours every Friday in Drupal IRC in the #drupal-scotch channel and you can read more about their current issues by looking at the “sandbox” project for the Drupal 8 Blocks and Layouts Everywhere initiative (it is not yet in the 8.x master branch of Drupal).

features will be in core and better than ever before. Interface translation, content translation, base language functionality and language configuration are all being greatly simplified so that it can all be in core with a nice, normal workflow. A lot of the real “pain points” with multilingual sites (or even simply non-English ones) have already been addressed and there is a ton that’s been done, but there is still a lot more to complete in the next three months if we want to really consider this a success. A lot of great progress was made during the code sprints before and after the conference. If you would like to help improve the Multilingual workflow in Drupal 8, there are lots of ways for anyone new to Drupal core development to still pitch in. There many open issues and many ways to move them forward without even writing a single patch. The best place to find active issues is probably to look at Gábor Hojtsy’s “focus issues” list. You can join the Drupal Multilingual initiative meetings in IRC (#drupal-i18n). See the meeting schedule on the main Drupal 8 initiatives’ help page.

is one of the biggest initiatives in terms of importance to Drupal 8’s success… ensuring that a site is responsive to the display size and has toolbars which nicely resize for device type is one of the major aspects of this work. We need good front-end performance for running on smaller, lower-powered devices; we need good, solid, clean, uncomplicated HTML5 code, and we need to be able to support easily using Drupal as a back-end for native mobile apps, purely responsive web design, web apps, or anything in between. There are some big parts of this which are not far along yet, so this is a great place for front-end developers and others interested in Drupal 8 mobile experience to get involved. One current obstacle to the Mobile initiative achieving its goals is greater completion of the Web Services initiative (WSCCI) also achieving its goals. Otherwise, John Albin Wilkins, the Mobile initiative project lead indicated two other areas which need a lot of work: front-end performance and the Drupal 8 mobile admin interface, likely designed with Spark’s Responsive Layout Builder. There are regular meetings on IRC (see meeting schedule on the mobile initiative’s official Drupal Groups page) and the Drupal 8 issue queue has a tag for "mobile" so it’s easy to jump in and help make mobile support rock in Drupal 8. You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to help move the issue queue along. As Dries and others have indicated, this might be the primary initiative for determining Drupal’s future success, given current trends.

: One of the highlights of DrupalCon Munich sessions certainly had to be Angie Byron and the Spark team’s presentation of all the awesomeness that comes from the Spark-distribution modules. Spark is only still in “alpha”, but you can already tell how amazing the features are. The idea is that while they design the perfect authoring experience for Drupal 8, the community can use, test, and help to refine the new functionality (in Drupal 7 via the Spark distribution) so that the feature-set will be well-tested and as awesome as possible when Drupal 8 is launched. Spark allows you to simply edit content, in-place (via the Aloha editor used by the Edit module) and also has a number of nice tools for designing responsive layouts, and has a tool palette which pulls out from the side and responsively adapts to the device. The goal is for the editor system to output only clean code without a mess of ugly divs and inline styling… and the editor is already living up to most of that promise. Words don’t really do Spark justice, so rather than take my word, you can try the demo. Note: Since anyone can make changes to the demo site that might be a bit weird, if things are really messed up, you can check back later. And of course reviewing patches in the Spark issue queue and creating new issues, where applicable, can help smooth the way to getting the envisioned “perfect” content authoring experience into Drupal 8.x core.

The Aquia Spark team prepare their presentation at DrupalCon Munich.

: Theming/Templating improvements in Drupal 8 include the use of Twig, a templating system also designed by Fabien Potencier of Symfony. It eliminates PHP from the theming layer for simpler code and removal of many security threats. The work on Twig does figure heavily into some of the initiatives, but is not an official core initiative on its own. Work is being done in a Twig sandbox led by Andreas Sahle of Wunderkraut. If you are interested in helping build this up, you can check out this sandbox and assist with the issues.

: Drupal 7 was released in January 2011, but it took over a year before there were enough of the important contrib modules ready enough for it that Drupal 6 was finally surpassed (in terms of numbers of Drupal 7 installations). Getting Views into core will hopefully help boost the uptake of Drupal 8 use as soon as it’s released. This will be a lot of work and there is a fund to help pay for development time. A lot of Drupal 8 Views features actually already work. Major parts of cTools are now in core. There is a funding request for getting Views into core (I threw 10 € into the donation box at the DrupalCamp in Barcelona), and the more we can donate, the more the Views team can allocate paid developer time to ensure that Drupal has a nice version of Views available when it ships. Of course you can also help with the Views for Drupal 8.x issues.

in core (only better). There is still a lot to do, but the idea is that the site can take any kind of request and send appropriate responses without a lot of headache. A lot of Symfony components being brought into Drupal are especially important here. Symfony integration helps bridge a gap between ours and the also-dynamic PHP-based developer community around Symfony, so should help provide a lot more experienced developers for Drupal. There is still a lot to do here; you can check out the current status via the WSCCI sandbox and help with the issue queue. See the core initiatives overview page for IRC meeting times and details. If you weren’t there for Larry Garfield’s Munich presentation, Web Services and Symfony Core Initiative, you can still watch it to get a good overview.

Automated testing in Drupal 8 is much faster and the Symfony components also help allow us to have more modular modules… ones which can more easily be unit-tested. In Drupal 8, PHPUnit will replace Simpletest although the latter may remain in core for a transition period.

The social side of the DrupalCon

What happens between sessions is the real reason that most of us go to DrupalCons. There is nothing quite like participating in code sprints with Webchick sitting across the room, committing the patches you’ve just been helping with. And of course you can take your favorite Drupal developer out for a beer or something. It’s great to be in an atmosphere where there are thousands of people who actually have an idea what you are talking about when you tell them your occupation—and of course it’s nice, for a change, to be able to leave out any explanation of Drupal. If you go to a DrupalCon, it’s a given that you will leave having made new friends—new friends who will feel a bit more like “old friends” the next time you see them.

More DrupalCons in the coming year than ever before

If you have never been to a DrupalCon, there are more DrupalCons coming in the next year than we’ve ever had in a year period, before. Granted, the two new (Australia / South America) cons are planned as smaller events that would actually be dwarfed by some of the larger DrupalCamps, but this is all a sign that Drupal is growing, world-wide. Note that the U.S. and European DrupalCons are both being held a bit later than in previous years. I look forward to seeing you all at a coming DrupalCon.

Feb 29 2012
Feb 29
Florian Lorétan holds out the official DrupalCon Munich promotional beer coaster

Over the past weekend at DrupalCamp Essen, I had the opportunity to sit down with Florian Lorétan, who has been instrumental in organizing and coordinating all the work which goes into bringing the next European DrupalCon to Munich, Germany. Since the last time we’d spoken, at Drupal City (the Drupal Camp held in Berlin, September 2011, less than a month after the initial announcement in London), there had been a lot of new developments. I asked Florian to catch us up.

Lowell: I’m Lowell Montgomery from Cocomore and I’m here in the BoF room at DrupalCamp Essen, speaking with Florian Lorétan, Munich’s community representative and a co-founder of Wunderkraut, about new developments in the planning of DrupalCon Munich. So what’s the latest news, Florian?

Florian: There are a lot of things going on right now. One of the big things we have on our plates right now is just making all these developments communicable. There’s a lot of work being done on the website, both on content and also on making the content look good — so it’s styling all the content types, different views, new content types, different blogs — and making sure that the sponsors get the attention they deserve on the website and also preparing for the session poll results which will open in a few weeks. One of the things that needs to be communicated are the featured sessions. We have some very exciting speakers coming from the outside — some very exciting topics, too. This is not completely final; but we do have some sessions which are confirmed, so this will probably be going up on the website in the next couple of weeks.

Florian: If it’s ready before DrupalCon Denver, we’ll put it on the website then, but at the latest it will be there at Denver.

Lowell: And you mentioned that the sponsor slots are pretty much all filled?

[…] For Munich, we still have Silver (very limited), Bronze, Sponsor Lunch, Sponsor Coffee Break, Sponsor a contest (like Tropo's hackathan or Twilio contest) [ … ]

Megan Sanicki, from email update, 29 Feb, 2012

Florian: All the top ones are sold out; Diamond, Platinum, Gold, and I think Silver, too, is sold out. The day stage sponsors, the beer garden sponsor, the coffee sponsor; are also given away. With Wunderkraut, we’re also happy to get the contribution lounge and contribution sprint sponsorship slots, which is something that fits for us, but it’s also a one-of-a-kind sponsorship of our community. I think that it’s been going very quickly; we weren’t expecting things to go that fast. Megan Sanicki is responsible for all the finances and sponsorships for DrupalCon and she’s has been doing a fantastic job at it. I think it’s really great that the sponsors have shown such incredible enthusiasm. I think it’s an indicator of how much interest there is in the conference and I hope that the attendees show as much interest as the sponsors have.

Lowell: That’s great news. But there are still unlimited Bronze sponsorships available, though, right?

Florian: Indeed there are. And it’s still a great way for Drupal-related companies to help make this an event which everyone in the community can afford to attend, while also getting good value. I’m not sure of the exact pricing and details right now, but on the DrupalCon Munich website the sponsorship packages are fully described. There may also still be some other opportunities for special sponsorships, but the opportunities for getting a booth or table are getting very limited, if not completely sold out.

Lowell: So one thing I really wanted to ask you about is: how can people who aren’t already involved in the planning do something to help make sure this the most awesome DrupalCon Europe to date?

Florian: The best thing to do is really just to spread the word: blog about it, tweet about it, make a presentation about it at the local user group, to get people up to speed, to get people to know what it’s about. There’re still a lot of people who don’t know exactly what DrupalCon is, and what the goals of DrupalCon are. Many people think that it’s a for-profit event, which it’s not, it’s really an event that’s fully targeted at getting the Drupal people of all kinds together, whether they are business people, developers, designers; getting all these people from the Drupal world together and really also growing the Drupal community, so reaching out, outside all those who already do business with Drupal. And this is one of the main goals of this specific conference; our slogan is “Open up: Connecting systems and people” and behind this “open up”, we also want to reach out to related communities, so to people working with new Javascript technologies which can be combined with Drupal, reaching out to people from the Typo3 community, which is particularly strong in Germany; it’s also an open-source project — in some ways it’s a competitor, but we have a lot in common and I think it’s great to have that kind of open discussion, to really be able to have that as some positive and constructive exchange of ideas. So this is one of the things that we are looking for in our featured sessions: to reach out to people who would not normally be participating at DrupalCon, to get people from the outside so that we can have a wider range of topics and also have topics that are interesting for people who are not working exclusively with Drupal.

Lowell: For people who do know what a DrupalCon is and live far away, say in North or South America; it’s easier for them to get to Denver. What can you say to encourage them to come to DrupalCon Munich other being able to go to interesting beer gardens and see Germany?

Florian: Well, a lot of people travel to DrupalCons both for professional reasons and as tourists and a lot of people bring their families for the trip to DrupalCon, so we are planning all the special events and parallel activities with DrupalCon.

Florian: Right, Drupalganger outings and also making sure we have some cultural activities.

Florian: Besides that, Germany is probably the largest Drupal market in Europe and the market with the biggest potential. There is a lot of demand and a lot of growth potential. And so I think it’s inevitable that there will be a lot of interest from the outside to get some presence in the German market, so for large companies it’s really a very interesting market to open branches, do more business with Germany, and also for the European market: more and more we are seeing that we’re not dealing with local projects anymore. It’s not a local Drupal shop working for a local company; we’re seeing companies from all over the world doing projects for clients all over the world. Since the German market has a lot of weight in the global economy, I think it’s important to have connections there; it’s important to have a presence there. And also there are a lot of very important contributors to Drupal core and to contrib modules who are from Germany. There’s a very active community in Germany. So for people who are more interested in the community-contribution aspects, there’s a lot of activity in Germany and the rest of Europe, too. So one of the things we are particularly looking at is turning the contribution lounge into a place which really supports and encourages people to contribute, to work with each other, and to have conversations about improvements that can be made to Drupal, to contrib modules, to the way we do business, to the way we do marketing, to the way we do design. We want this conference to be a conference where people participate actively. It’s not a conference where people just go, watch awesome sessions and take notes, and then go home. It’s really a conference where people are active, they discuss things, they meet people, they make new connections, they do business, they write code; it’s really a hands-on conference.

Lowell: Right. So there’s a lot that takes place at a DrupalCon and a lot that goes on in the half-year between the DrupalCons, so if people only attend once-per-year at the conference closer to them, they are missing a lot and missing the opportunities to meet and connect with other members of the community who might not be able to make the longer trips to Europe or to North America.

So are there other ways that people outside of Germany could help support the preparation processes?

Florian: Actually for the teams doing the coordination and organization of the event before the start of the conference, we already have a pretty good team. We have about 30 people involved, split between the design team, the website building team, the track chairs, the people doing the coordination of various events; there are also people working on the marketing. We really actually have a very good team. We have a couple of positions coming up, but what we’re really looking for are people who can make a time commitment, and who can take up responsibility and say I’m going to dedicate myself to do that and we need people who are reliable, because when we are working with such a big team of people, if we have people who are not reliable, then we just spend more time looking after people and we just want people to get the things done. But there are couple of opportunities and if someone wants to get involved, they should just contact us directly through the contact page and say “Hey, I’m available and I have one day a week that I can dedicate to this cause.” And their contact will be forwarded to the correct person. Otherwise there’s going to be the possibility to be involved on-site maybe one or two days before the conference helping with registrations, with distributing T-shirts, with showing the way, helping by being a room monitor during the conference, just making sure that things start on time, and that the speakers have water and so on. But for this kind of volunteering, we’ll post a form on the website one or two months before the event. It’s currently too early to start working on that.

Lowell: Right. How does that work, anyway? If you want to help out at the event, can you do that just for part of the day, so that the rest of the time they can be in sessions and participate in other aspects of the conference?

Florian: Yes. This is generally done in half-day slots or something like that, so we generally have plenty of people who just want to help. I’ve done it before; it’s a lot of fun. You work with other people who are also really passionate about what they do. So it’s a fun experience. You normally get a T-shirt for it and that’s pretty much it, but it’s a great opportunity to start being involved. So sign up for our newsletter on the website and you’ll be notified when we have the call for volunteers.

Lowell: Okay. So is it time yet to register for the conference and buy a ticket or when does that happen?

Florian: It’s not open yet. There are still some things to do to finalize the budget and determine the ticket price. This will be coming soon; it will probably be open a couple of days before Denver, but the official announcement, when we expect a lot of people to register, will happen on the last day at Denver.So it should be ready in a couple of weeks.

Lowell: What are your expectations about how many people might be in attendance at DrupalCon Europe?

Lowell Montgomery, at left, interviews Florian Lorétan at DrupalCamp EssenFlorian: Well, we have enough space for 2500 people. This is bigger than other European conferences, but at the same time, well… there’s been steady growth in the community. Also Munich has a very central location in Europe. It’s very easily accessible from pretty much anywhere by either plane or train, so I’m expecting a lot of people to come. Also, since we want to reach out more to people outside the community, it’s not going to be an event that’s just for a niche group. We want to make it a great event that we hope will attract people from outside the community. I personally expect the conference to sell out. It might not be possible to buy tickets at the entrance. If we get as much interest from attendees as we got from sponsors, if it goes as quickly, then we will definitely be sold out.

Lowell: That’s great! Unfortunately, I’m not personally going to be able to get to Denver… between the cost of airfare, the cost of staying in a hotel for a week, and other expenses, it’s just not in my personal budget right now, so I’m wondering how the prices of hotel accommodations in Munich compare to the costs in London and in winter-tourist-season Denver?

Florian: In Munich, the conference is taking place at a hotel where they’ve offered conference attendees a special price which includes, among other things, free Wi-Fi in the rooms. There are various advantages. You can already make reservations by phone or by e-mail just by mentioning DrupalCon and there’ll be a special form for booking your hotel accommodations which should be ready soon. Otherwise, Munich is not a cheap city, but there are some budget priced hotels in the area and the local transportation is good, so it should be possible to stay at other hotels and easily get to and from the conference location. Public transportation there is great and I would certainly recommend anyone coming for the week, especially if they are staying at another hotel, to buy a public transportation ticket for the week. I think it’s 13 or 14 Euros.

Lowell: That’s a good deal. Do you have any final thoughts you’d like to share with us.

Florian: Well one of the things that we did in London is that when we announced the conference in Munich we handed out stickers. The logo for the conference is actually a beer coaster. And our design team from Cocomore came up with the idea, “Hey, the logo is a beer coaster, how about printing real beer coasters?” And so we looked into that, and then when we were looking at the quantities, we realized that we could actually use a lot of those. And so a couple of weeks ago they were printed and then just last week we received them in our office. It’s two very big and very heavy boxes full of beer coasters, and now we’re distributing those at various Drupal events. so we’re here at DrupalCamp Essen and people are very excited about them already and they’re taking them back to their respective user groups. We’re taking them to CeBIT, the largest IT conference in Europe, where Drupal has a booth. We are also taking many of them to DrupalCon Denver and to many other events. And so one of the things that were going to do with these is we’re going to have a contest for the most creative use of these coasters. So it’s going to be on Twitter; just post a creative use of your beer coaster. And, of course you first need to get your hands on one of them. So if you’re in Denver, be sure to get one. And if you’re not going to Denver, make sure you ask someone who’s going to Denver to get one for you. I’m sure it’s going to be a lot of fun, so more details will be coming up soon. Make sure you get your hands on one of those beer coasters. The design team from Cocomore really did a fantastic job! It’s been a pleasure working with them.

Lowell: I agree. I think the DrupalCon site really looks terrific, too.

Well, thank you for taking the time to talk with me today and I’m definitely looking forward to Munich.

Florian: You’re welcome, Lowell. I’m looking forward to it, too.

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